Today, we flew the trip to Janesville that we planned during Thursday’s ground school lesson. I got a weather briefing and updated the heading and ground speed calculations, using the current winds, before I left home. When I got to the airport, Sandy and I went over my plan and I listened in while she called Kankakee Flight Service Station to file our flight plans there and back. The briefer asked for only the changed information for the return flight. This would become important later.
With the planning done, I went out to do my preflight. The airplane was only flown for an hour earlier in the morning so the tanks should have been almost full. In fact, the left tank was about half empty and the right tank was down more than a third. I let Sandy know and she called for the fuel truck. By the time we took off, we were about 30 minutes past our proposed departure time. Flight plans are held for two hours beyond the proposed time so that was no big deal.
I had planned the flight for 4500 feet but, clouds near the Lake Michigan shore kept us at 3200 for the first part of the trip. Once clear of the Waukegan class D airspace, I called Kankakee radio and opened our flight plan. Soon after that, we hit our first checkpoint. The heading seemed right on so no recalculations were required at that point. The clouds were becoming more scattered so I added power and began a climb up to 4500 feet. I reached cruising altitude and the second check point at about the same time. At this point, I punched the start button on the timer so we could check our ground speed. When we passed over the third checkpoint, I stopped the timer. We were within a few seconds of my calculated time. So far so good, heading and speed were right on plan.
Everything had been going very well up to now so it’s a shame that we couldn’t find our final check point. This one was a road with the intersection of two railroads just to the north. When we got to where we thought the checkpoint should be, it seemed there were railroads and highways everywhere. We knew one of them was the right one and that we were very close to where we should be. Since we had the airport in sight at this point, we didn’t spend a lot of time trying to pinpoint that final checkpoint. I called the Janesville tower and got us down on runway 4.
Once clear of the runway, we taxied to the terminal ramp, shutdown and went inside. I called Green Bay Flight Service to close our flight plan then, since it was now just after noon, we went into the CAVU Cafe for a quick lunch break. This gave us a chance to review the flight so far and to talk about what we wanted to accomplish on the trip back. After an abbreviated preflight, we were back in the airplane.
I had planned the return flight for 5500 feet but, we decided to change that to 3500 to stay below the scattered clouds that were still hanging around. Back on course, we again looked for the railroad intersection and finally picked out what we both thought was the right spot. This was a good lesson in checkpoint selection. Don’t pick points that can be confused with similar features in the vicinity.
I called Green Bay radio to open our flight plan back but, they told me they did not have anything on file for us and suggested we call Kankakee to find out what happened to it. Kankakee said that the two hour time limit had passed and the plan had been dumped from the system. They had our proposed departure from Janesville as 1545Z while we had both written down 1645Z. Apparently, when Sandy filed both plans before we left, the briefer used the same departure time for both. Because of the wait for fuel at Waukegan and lunch at Janesville, our actual departure time was 1746Z – one minute past the two hours. It was probably about 10 minutes past the recorded proposed time when I actually called Green Bay. Kankakee asked if we wanted to re-file but, since we were over half way home by then, Sandy declined.
While Sandy was on the radio getting all this straightened out, we got to the second check point. While we saw it easily enough, we were about two miles north of it. We chalked this up to a difference in the wind between our planned altitude of 5500 feet and the 3500 feet we were actually at. I turned south to intercept out course then changed my target heading from 098 to 110. This put us very close to our next two check points and got us home to Waukegan. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but later I thought of another thing that might have contributed to the heading being wrong. I had done all my flight planning for N35092. When Sandy dispatched the airplane, she changed it to N35079. I haven’t been back to check, but I wonder how much difference there is in the compass deviation between the two airplanes? It’s another lesson to learn, account for any and all changes in plan before taking off.
For the first cross country, I thought this lesson went very well. I learned as much, or more, from the things that didn’t go according to plan as I did from those that did. I have been looking forward to this part of my training. While it is important to go out and practice maneuvers from time to time, flying from place to place if what personal aviation is all about for me.
No more lesson for almost three week since Georgia and I are leaving for Alaska Tuesday morning.